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Freedom of the Press

   
▲ Jeong Sang-seok, CEO at University Press Coop
   
 

   I have a dream. I have a dream that every country, region, and university have their own free press. When I was an editor-in-chief of the university newspaper, I experienced undue intervention of editorial rights from the President and a professor, and the negative influence this had on the university made me keenly aware of the necessity of free media.

   Real free press can only exist under the guarantees of three freedoms. The first one is “freedom from outside the press.” Intervention of governmental power in editorial rights was the main culprit that made both university and Korean society suffer. In 2015, Dongguk University Press suffered from the suspension of publication due to an opinion poll regarding the general election at Dongguk University.

   Independence from advertisers is also an important matter. It is very common to find the established press deleting articles due to pressure from advertisers.

   Pressure from readers is a hidden source of threat. The university press experienced criticisms from readers, because the article was “defaming our university,” although it was telling the truth. Truth sometimes causes readers discomfort and disappointment. Liberty in media can be realized when freedoms from governmental powers, advertisers, and readers are guaranteed.

   The second condition should be “the freedom from press inside.” A strong vertical structure prevails inside the atmosphere of press in Korea. Such an atmosphere can easily be found in an absolute majority of companies and organizations; however, it especially causes a big problem for the whole society. The fact, what a journalist captures, is soon manufactured with the “taste” of the editor and wrapped with “provocation” to increase profit.

   In this culture, an individual journalist becomes a part of the organization. At urgent moments, journalists, who should be making decisions based on the value of journalism, begin to act for their groups first. Unethical behaviors by reporters during the coverage of the Sewol ferry disaster were initiated by collectivism to maximize profit with good-selling articles made by provocative reporting.

   The last freedom is “Freedom from journalists’ limitations.” Journalists should declare a separation from prejudice and ignorance. For instance, an article that covered the game industry from the perspective of a journalist saying “games are nothing more than drugs and gambling” was limited in its delivery of the general reality of the game industry. Journalists who see sexual minorities without deep investigation of the reality and individual lives, will only regard those people as ones who are exceptional and in need of treatments. This perspective is eventually directly passed on to the readers.

   Journalists ought to be responsible for the articles they write and be aware of the influence they can have on society. Casting light upon a few articles in the media flood, it is hard to have an impact on society. When problems still remain even after the reporting, journalists should continuously give attention and disclose these matters.

   Maximization of self-improvement and autonomy of journalists, however, needs not only the efforts of journalists themselves but also the overall bond of sympathy bond among the whole group.

   Looking at the Korean media business world, free media seems impossible to achieve. However, I am working to make this dream come true. I have founded the University Press Cooperative, supporting the operation and publication of independent media at universities. The corporation provides education, operation manuals, advertising business and so on.

   Independent media at university, which are members of the University Press Cooperative have autonomous editorial rights, since they do not belong to university headquarters. Moreover, they respect journalists’ spontaneity through establishing separation of business and editing and a horizontal organizational culture. Journalists, therefore, act by their inner motivations.

   I cannot firmly say that a free press will appear in every university, region, and country, but at least I and the members of the union are trying to make dreams come true in each of our respective positions.

Jeong Sang-seok  jeo2514@naver.com

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